It’s not often that I want to kiss Hilary Benn, the British environment minister. But after it became clear that Her Majesty’s Government did what it believed in and voted with Monaco for an Appendix 1 listing for the bluefin tuna last Thursday, despite the agreed EU line that Britain should abstain, I did seriously consider it.
Just to explain, there were two votes on the bluefin tuna last Thursday at the Cites meeting in Doha, one on the EU’s horribly compromised version of support for Appendix 1, which was full of undermining conditions imposed by France, and one on a real, immediate, unadulterated Appendix 1 proposed by Monaco. Britain supported the EU first, then in the vote on Monaco’s proposal, voted with Monaco, rather than take the whip of the pro-fisheries Spanish Presidency. The Netherlands, and possibly one other dissenter, are thought to have voted for Monaco, too. Hence my admiration for Hilary. I’ll shake his hand warmly when I next meet him.
As a result, there was a horrible row in EU co-ordination meetings afterwards and the borderline incompentent Spanish presidency which had contributed so much to the loss of the bluefin vote (accidentally or on purpose, you might ask) threatened Britain with a fine. But Britain under Hilary Benn was not going to let a little principality that had encouraged the rest of the world to do what was right to take the medicine on its own.
That is the kind of thing, Hilary, (and your colleague Huw Irranca Davies) that makes us Brits feel proud. It could be the most Churchillian moment of your careers.
There will be more tests of character this week. As I write, I hear that the scalloped hammerhead shark has just failed to get the two-thirds majority it needed for a listing under Appendix II and the other shark proposals are being voted on now… There is a chance that at least one of these decisions can be reversed if the US and EU do some serious diplomacy.